By LYNDON ZAITZ
Of the Keizertimes

Florence Carter’s suggestion has grown from a little wine tasting into a full-blown chili cook-off at her son John’s restaurant, Tuff Ranch BBQ, at McNary Golf Club.

The first Spicy Pepper Chili Cook-off and Wine and Beer Festival will take over the patio at Tuff Ranch from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 31.

The public is invited to bring their best chili or salsa to the cook-off.

Local rock band Lush will perform at the Spicy Pepper Chili Cook-off at Tuff Ranch BBQ on Saturday. (Submitted photo)

There will be no cooking at the event; contestants will cook prepare their chili at home and bring their entries to Tuff Ranch BBQ.

Entrants should plan on bringing “a few gallons of chili to sample,” said Carter.

Those entering a salsa should also bring enough for 150 people to sample.

Admission and sampling of the chili and salsa entries is free.

Cost to enter the cook-off is $5 for each entry with an unlimited number of entries per person.

Along with the chili and salsa contest more than 10 area wineries and four breweries will display their products.  A 5-ounce beer or a 3-ounce wine will each cost $4.

Each winery will have bottles of several varietals for sale.

Food Services of America (FSA) and Sysco have donated ribs, chicken, and pork for the event.  Food will be sold throughout the day aside from the cook-off entries.

The evening will be capped with live music from the band Lush in the lounge. The restaurant will be serving its regular menu in its dining room and lounge on Saturday.

There will be a panel of celebrity judges as well as People’s Choice winners.  The winning chili and salsa chosen by the judging panel will be put on the Tuff Ranch BBQ’s restaurant  menu from September to the end of the year.

John Carter and his wife,  Alaina Santana, a teacher at South Salem High School,  hope to grow the cook-off into an annual fundraising event with the sole purpose of clothing school-age children in the Salem-Keizer school district.

All the proceeds benefit the Assistance League’s Operation School Bell which raises funds to buy and distribute school clothes for students whose families are struggling financially.  It is a project that John Carter is passionate about.

“It’s a terrible thing for a kid to start school without a pair of shoes, a jacket or a backpack,” he said.

He related a story he had heard about a recipient of Operation School Bell’s prograrm.

“This little boy got shoes and he carried them around in the box.  When asked why he wasn’t wearing them he explained that they were the first pair of new shoes he ever had.”

So far this school year, Operation School Bell has clothed more than 2,600 Salem-Keizer school children.  The project began in 1960 and is now a national project of the Assistance League.

Carter and Santana want the cook-off to grow over the next few years.  “There should be no reason why, we as a community, can’t make sure our children have clothes to wear when they go to school.”